Children who are close contacts of those who test positive for Omicron will also have to self-isolate for 10 days, raising fears that thousands of healthy children will once again be told to stay at home, causing mass disruption to education.
Headteachers welcomed the reintroduction of masks but called for better communication from the department for education, with at least one saying they did not know about the last minute rule changes until contacted by the Standard.
Alex Crossman, head of London Academy of Excellence Stratford said: “Most Heads will accept that this variant may fall into the category of existential threat that requires an immediate response, but if schools are to be an effective part of that response, they need time to organise. They need to be briefed alongside public health agencies rather than alongside betting shops and hair salons.”
Bethany Dawson, head of Sutton High School said: “A Sunday evening missive, for a Monday implementation, is almost the shortest notice we have seen for DfE guidance during the pandemic. Whilst we fully understand the rationale and welcome the guidance, I hope it will be possible for timelier instruction in the future.”
Millan Sachania, head of Streatham and Clapham High School said: “Any amendments to DfE guidance on the wearing of face coverings in schools on the grounds of public health need to be communicated in a timely manner so that senior leaders can transmit the new requirements effectively to all stakeholders to ensure full implementation.”
In many secondary schools pupils have already been wearing masks in corridors. Some heads will now go further and reintroduce them to classrooms as well. Emma Pattison, head of Croydon High School is considering the move for older pupils. She said: “This is a big decision for any school because we all now recognise how challenging it is for pupils and teachers to wear face coverings all day. Not only is it quite unpleasant, it makes communication difficult and is therefore a barrier to effective teaching and learning.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union said she is disappointed mask wearing has not been reintroduced to classrooms. Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme she said: “Covid will not recognise the difference between a corridor and a classroom.”
But Vicky Bingham, head of South Hampstead High School said: “I am glad that lessons can continue without masks as I regard them as a barrier to learning in the classroom.”
James Handscombe, Principal of Harris Westminster Sixth Form said: “A return to face coverings in communal spaces is going to be straightforward to implement and is an understandable restriction in the light of what we know about the omicron variant.”
Some parents have called for children to be exempt from new self-isolation rules.
MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid recovery Group said the measures “will cause chaos including collateral harms like damage to children’s education.”